Protestors, administration supporters face off in 34th People Power Anniversary

Hundreds of citizens converged at EDSA Shrine in the early morning last Tuesday, February 25, to remember the events that unravelled during the 1986 People Power Revolution. The mass demonstrations 34 years ago led to the toppling of former President and late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, giving away to the return of democratic institutions.

From EDSA Shrine, demonstrators marched toward Mendiola, rallying both in commemoration of Martial Law victims and in protest against the policies of the administration under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Thirty-four years of People Power

The beginning of the commemoration was marked by a decidedly short wreath-laying ceremony at the base of the memorial led by EDSA People Power Commission Vice Chairperson Joey Concepcion and National Historical Commission Chair Rene Escalante, who were accompanied by an honor guard detail.

Calls for justice soon filled the air as members of opposition groups streamed into EDSA Shrine. Clad in yellow, members of the Tindig Pilipinas coalition stood on the steps of the memorial wearing masks labelled “Kontra Duterte Virus”, among other slogans. The gathered demonstrators proceeded to lambast policies of the Duterte administration that they proclaimed to be “anti-democratic”.

Youth, labor, and farmers’ organizations soon followed and held a parallel demonstration along EDSA, while a row of police officers clad in riot gear shadowed the protest and blocked further access to the shrine.

Before noon, demonstrators began marching toward the historic Mendiola St., passing by the University of Sto. Tomas to link up with other protestors. Chants of “Ang tao, ang bayan, lumalaban” and “Makibaka, huwag matakot,” filled the air, as activists called for remembrance for those who fell victim during the Martial Law era. They also criticized a number of policies enacted by the Duterte administration, including troop deployments in rural regions, the TRAIN law, red-tagging activities, and the country’s pivot to China.

(The people [and] the nation [are] fighting]. Join the struggle, do not be afraid.)

Head to head

Noted members of the opposition graced Mendiola as demonstrators began their afternoon program. Kabataan Partylist representative Sarah Elago and Bayan Muna Partylist representative Carlos Zarate joined youth and labor leaders in leveling out criticism against the administration.

Elago explained that commemorating People Power is important for keeping the youth aware of the country’s history—both for preventing a repeat of past tragedies and for better understanding the foundation of human rights. Asked about the current administration’s parallels with the Marcos presidency, Elago explained that current trends are taking a turn for the worse, “Ang pinaka-nakakabahala [ay] hindi na lang tayo basta nagth-throwback, eh.

(The most bothersome thing is that we are not just making a “throwback”.)

She highlighted similarities between reports of alleged torture cases and killings and the lack of accountability in the War on Drugs. Elago also pointed out how the deaths of lawyers, workers, farmers,  journalists, and environmental activists remain unresolved.

Standing on the opposite side of the program, right in front of the Mendiola Peace Arch, were pro-Duterte groups. Professing their “undying support to the best president of the Philippines”, the counter-protesters said that they were rallying against the anti-Duterte sentiments of the Mendiola rallyists.

Nene Santiago, a member of pro-Duterte group Bongbong Marcos for President, asserted that Filipinos have to understand the need for a revolutionary government. “Panahon na para ayusin ang Pilipinas. Nandito ako para suportahan si Tatay Digong sa lahat ng kanyang mga plano,” said Santiago.

(It is time to fix the Philippines. I am here to support Tatay Digong in all his plans.)

The counter-protesters soon produced a tarpaulin emblazoned with the faces of alleged “oligarchs” in the country, a lineup that included business tycoons Gabby Lopez, Manny Pangilinan, and Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, whose companies were involved in recent spats with Duterte. Oddly enough, however, the list also included Duterte associate Dennis Uy and billionaire Enrique Razon.

The Davao-based Uy engaged in a massive acquisition spree since Duterte’s rise to power, and has recently secured approval to buy a 45 percent share of the Malampaya gas field. Ports magnate Razon has also closely followed administration steps, gaining approval for his P20-billion Wawa Dam project and has recently acquired a 25 percent stake in the embattled Ayala Group’s Manila Water.

The pro-administration supporters proceeded to slap and step on the tarpaulin, alleging that the oligarchs are the reason why many Filipinos still live in poverty. 

Despite the presence of opposing groups, there were no reports of violence in both EDSA and Mendiola, Manila Police District Director Brig. Gen. Bernabe Balba said.

Siguro nagma-mature na sila, he added.

(Maybe they are maturing.)

When asked about the police force’s preparations and expectations for the commemoration, Balba stated, “[Papabayaan] lang namin sila na magpahayag ng kanilang saloobin, basta wala lang masasaktan.”

(We will let them voice out their opinions, as long as no one gets hurt.)

After the People Power Revolution, the country was never the same. The legacy that was left by EDSA remains with the Filipino people and will remain a powerful reminder that a lasting endeavor for freedom and democracy can overcome tyranny and oppression.

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